Iron Man

Movie Information

The Story: When arms manufacturer Tony Stark is captured by terrorists, he transforms himself into an unstoppable juggernaut of vengeance known as Iron Man. The Lowdown: Enjoyable big-budget fun that's aware of its own preposterousness and benefits from probably the best performance ever seen in a comic-book movie, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.
Genre: Comic-Book Action-Adventure
Director: Jon Favreau (Zathura)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb
Rated: PG-13

The first big blockbuster film of the year is upon us, and with apologies to my friends who take all this comic-book stuff very seriously, I’ll say it’s pretty darn good—for what it is. But it is what it is. By that I mean it’s a comic-book movie, period. Let’s face facts, comic books aren’t Faulkner in four-color process. OK sure, a couple of film adaptations of comics have transcended the form—for instance, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) and Bryan Singer’s X2 (2003)—but at the end of the day, they’re still fantasticated and completely preposterous.

Here we’re talking about a guy who dresses up in a flying metal suit to blast, bomb and bludgeon his way through a variety of terrorists, plus a traditional superbad guy in an even bigger flying metal suit. There’s precious little wiggle room for subtlety in a framework like that. And in the case of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, that’s not a bad thing. It’s kind of a relief to encounter one of these movies that doesn’t think it’s on par with Hamlet. And God knows, I’d had enough of that whiny little twerp Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) by the end of Spider-Man 2 (2004), and could’ve gladly dropped a full-size Steinway on both him and that font of prefab wisdom Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) long before the end of Spider-Man 3 (2007).

Iron Man‘s Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) doesn’t puddle up like Bette Davis every 10 minutes, nor does he do the brooding Batman sulk like Garbo contemplating throwing herself under a train. Plus, the character and Downey are simply a lot more fun than that block of wood, Brandon Routh, who plays Superman in Superman Returns (2006)—not that Superman in any incarnation is exactly a firkin of simians.

The Iron Man character is born when Stark is kidnapped by an international mix of terrorists who want him to construct his munition company’s latest and greatest weapon. A combination of personal ire and a crise de conscience upon finding that the bad guys are using his weaponry against the good guys compels Stark to rethink his life as a hedonistic, hard-drinking womanizer, making a fortune off humankind’s incessant desire to blow each other up. In that regard, there is some mild sense of attempting to “deepen” the character. There’s also a bit of antiwar subtext (goes down much more smoothly when it’s buried in the story). But this is limited to the basic concept and a couple of brief scenes. Better yet, Stark never becomes glum and is never less than a smart-ass, which is refreshing.

Also refreshing is Stark’s tentative romance with the improbably named “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). It’s again not as goopy and downbeat as the relationships in the Spider-Man pictures or old Supes mooning over lost Lois Lane in Superman Returns. In fact, it’s unusually adult and smacks a good bit of the old screwball comedy, and some of the dialogue is sharp and funny.

The film isn’t perfect. First of all, nothing ever tops Stark’s original, truly creepy Iron Man outfit that he creates for himself while imprisoned by the terrorists. It reduces our hero to a kind of unstoppable, monstrous force of nature. His subsequent suit that he crafts when he gets back home may be a good bit more stylish, but let’s face it, it also looks awfully like a hood ornament on a 1930s car and completely loses the sense of menace. Worse, the bigger, badder “Iron Monger” togs affected by his nemesis, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), are similarly less menacing than Stark’s original suit. It doesn’t help that Bridges—even with the requisite comic-book villain alopecia-afflicted dome—just isn’t terrifically effective as a villain. And his specially modulated giant-monster voice is frankly less impressive than that of Frank Morgan’s coming over the loudspeakers in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

The film’s biggest problem, however, is one that afflicts most comic-book movies: It feels simultaneously too long and too rushed. There’s an awful lot of buildup here to get to a fairly tepid “big ending.” It’s not as pronounced as the “that was it?” climaxes of Daredevil (2003), Superman Returns or Spider-Man 3, but it’s simply not enough payoff for all the effort. This, I think, is partly the unfortunate by-product of the increased slickness in special effects. It’s become harder and harder to impress us. When Richard Donner’s Superman came out in 1978, the whole thrust of the ad campaign was “You’ll believe a man can fly!” That was a somewhat hopeful assessment, but there was an excitement to it. Now, we take it for granted.

So yeah, Iron Man has its flaws, but they’re not enough to keep the film from being a good time at the movies. At a time when you can run down the list of every title in a multiplex and find little but an array of various levels of cinematic suckage, that’s a pretty heady accomplishment. Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and brief suggestive content.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

25 thoughts on “Iron Man

  1. I really loved this movie. Like Hanke said, it has it’s problems, but all in all a nice blast of fun that had just enough geeky crap to keep fanboys like me happy.

  2. I put this one in the upper tier of superhero films. It doesn’t take itself seriously, moves quick, and has a great cast. Stay until after the end credits!

    Summer 2008 looks promising.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Summer 2008 looks promising

    I liked Iron Man, but I gotta ask what about summer 2008 looks promising to you?

  4. Justin Souther

    “what about summer 2008 looks promising to you?”

    It ending.

    And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the only person in America who didn’t care for this movie. I think the problem is I should’ve watched MADE OF HONOR before I watched this. Anything would look magnificent that way.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I think the problem is I should’ve watched MADE OF HONOR before I watched this. Anything would look magnificent that way.

    You could’ve just thought back to Spider-Man 3 and achieved a similar frame of mind.

  6. Chad Nesbitt

    I thought it was great and pro USA. The two best parts were the tank scene and the hostage scene.

    Check out this months Popular Science for a real life exoskeleton. Way cool.

    Loved the movie. Ready for the sequal.

    Chad Nesbitt

  7. Chad Nesbitt

    Hanke say’s:

    <>I liked Iron Man, but I gotta ask what about summer 2008 looks promising to you?<>

    The Happening
    The Incrediable Hulk
    Indiana Jones (I hope it doesn’t let us down)
    The Dark Night

    But bring on the STAR TREK! I CAN’T WAIT ANYMORE!

  8. Mostly to reiterate what Chad said…

    Indiana Jones
    Hellboy 2
    Pineapple Express
    Space Chimps

  9. bobaloo

    I gotta ask what about summer 2008 looks promising to you

    For discriminating minds such as yourself, not much.

    For fanboys:
    The Dark Knight
    Star Wars: Clone Wars
    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
    Hellboy 2 (surely you’re curious about del Toro’s latest)
    X-Files 2
    Prince Caspian
    I’m curious about the new Hulk, but it looks like shite.

    For my kid, most of the above plus Kung Fu Pand and WALL E.

    At least you can look forward to Sisterhood of Traveling Pants 2…wait, nevermind. :)

    Of course, except for the two kids movies, all of the above are sequels.

  10. “For discriminating minds such as yourself, not much.”

    For years I shunned the Hollywood blockbuster, instead watching samurai films, Jess Franco abominations and other obscurities. However, I’ve learned to chill out and enjoy the ride that these films get. Blow stuff up and I’ll be a happy guy.

    Even though we got a ton of sequels, this year looks more promising than any in recent memory.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Hellboy 2 (surely you’re curious about del Toro’s latest)The Dark Knight, but mostly for Ledger’s performance.

    You boys are going to have fun with this week’s Screening Room.

    For years I shunned the Hollywood blockbuster, instead watching samurai films, Jess Franco abominations and other obscurities.

    I can’t stand Franco and am not big on Samurai stuff, but I don’t think my only other options really ought to be comic book movies, kiddie flicks and Eddie Murphy abominations.

    this year looks more promising than any in recent memory.

    Amazing. I find it positively the most depressing in memory.

  12. Ken Hanke

    I hope they are working on Norbit 2.

    Naw, this looks more like Pluto Nash 2.

  13. Ken Hanke

    You truly are cranky!

    More like disgruntled. I can’t get behind the “if enough stuff blows up I’m happy” mindset. It isn’t that I’m against explosions per se. A group of us watched Brazil last night and a lot of stuff blows up just swell in it, but there’s a kind of point to it. I’m not even four-square opposed to fairly mindless explosions. What I object to is months of nothing else but that and kiddie flicks.

  14. Out of curiosity, how did [i]Brazil[/i] hold up? And did you watch the original ending, or the “love conquers all” studio cut?

  15. Erik Harrison

    A bit tangential perhaps, but can we please cease with the backhanded chatter about comic books? It smacks of exactly the same sort of well meaning ignorance that comes out of the mouths of novelists who’ve never seen a Fellini or Kurosawa movie, and think less of film as a medium.

    Iron Man is a big, old four color adventure, both on screen and on the page, of course. But to equate that with comic books is a bit of a stretch. Stuff like “Black Hole” (being adapted by David Fincher) really undermines that whole point of view.

    Alright, end rant. Spot on review, regardless.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Out of curiosity, how did Brazil hold up? And did you watch the original ending, or the “love conquers all” studio cut?

    This’d probably be a better fit on the overrated column, but to answer your question, it holds up beautifully. In fact, it is, unfortunately, more relevant in the age of “Homeland Security” than it was 23 years ago. I’ll also happily note that its relatively basic special effects are better looking than any CGI I’ve seen.

    Does the studio ending even exist anymore? I’ve actually never seen it. I did notice one difference between this and the version I remember. And the disc claims to run 142 minutes, which is about 5 minutes longer than the laserdisc (which also had the bleak ending).

  17. [b]A bit tangential perhaps, but can we please cease with the backhanded chatter about comic books?[/b]

    Just to be clear: You want to stop people from talking about comic-book-related movies in a review of a comic-book-related movie? It’s not like we’re talking about some work of high cinema here. It’s about a man who wears a shiny metal suit and blows stuff up for justice. It’s good for what it is, sure, but as Hanke points out in the opening of his review “… it is what it is.”

    It seems to me that mentioning the [i]Hulk[/i] reboot, [i]Dark Knight[/i] or even [i]Hancock[/i] is completely fair game. It’s the same genre (superhero) and the same kind of adaption. If we were talking about [i]Maus[/i] or [i]Blankets[/i], I’d totally have your back on this, but not so much on [i]Iron Man[/i].

    Unless, that is, you really have something canny to say about Favreau’s mise-en-scène and overall artistic message in [i]Iron Man[/i].

    For me, however, it’s just not the kind of film that merits deep analysis. But there’s a whole world of funnybooks-turned-movies to get excited about.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Unless, that is, you really have something canny to say about Favreau’s mise-en-scène and overall artistic message in Iron Man.

    And that seems improbable. Just from reading this thread, it should be obvious that any thematic concerns Favreau and company might have are capable of being overlooked or completely misread to a degree that they become part and parcel of the very thing they don’t intend.

    I grant you and freely admit that comic books and graphic novels are to me what rock music is to Woody Allen. I’m not saying that they contain no ideas of merit. I’m not saying that they contain no stories of worth. I am saying that for me they basically don’t work as either great literature, or pictorial art. I know a lot of people who like the form, but I can’t get into them — and, yes, I’ve tried. They’ve been turned into movies I’ve liked — From Hell, Road to Perdition, Sin City, V for Vendetta come to mind — but, unlike, say, The Hours or About a Boy I didn’t feel compelled to check out the source material after seeing the films.

  19. Rob Close

    i thoroughly enjoyed this film – definitely solidly enjoyable, especially for what it is (comic book film).

    yeah, the final battle was just ok – but the actual ending i thought was a good note to walk out on. a finale that made me smile (and the nick fury bonus scene – nice tease)…

    what i found most odd was this change – S.H.I.E.L.D. originally stood for “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division”, but in ’91 was changed to “Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage Logistics Directorate.” However, for this film they gave it a new 3rd meaning – “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division.” …a peculiar addition of the word homeland, eh?

  20. Julian

    I think The Dark Knight will be the best movie of the summer. Ledgers performace as The Joker looks nearly perfect.

  21. I loved it, everything about it! I never thought Robert Downey Jr. could play a super hero action character. I’m too used to him playing douche bag rolls in movies such as Natural Born Killers, Back to School, and Weird Science. But at the end, I thought to myself he gloriously pulled it off. I thought I knew actors, I obviously don’t know everything.

    But Robert Downey Jr. didn’t play the tipical super hero. He was original, a character that was totally unexpected. I saw Iron Man 1, after seeing it I knew I was going to watch the second one in the theater. It wasn’t as good as the first I think, but pretty close. I for one am looking forward to a third and still plan on spending $9 to see it at the theater.

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